Empowering Girls: Using sport to tackle gender issues
One thing that gives me a buzz is that the significance of International Inspiration, London 2012’s international legacy programme, is not just about opening doors for children and young people to PE, sport and play. Of course this is important in its own right. But what is exciting is that International Inspiration is using sport as a vehicle to develop youth leadership, raise HIV & AIDS awareness and dispel harmful myths that stigmatise affected children.
Sport is also encouraging young people to stay and succeed in education – the key to a better life. International Inspiration is making a huge difference in many countries too in the empowerment of girls and young women. In places where physical activity is frowned on for teenage girls, International Inspiration is working with local communities to convince them to allow young women to play sport for the first time in their lives.
We are liaising with partner governments and agencies to make school sport more inclusive and offering leadership training to young girls, giving them the confidence to flourish. As girls begin to succeed in sport, and communities see what they can do as athletes and as leaders, they are gaining the self belief they need to succeed in other areas of their lives.
Building leadership skills in Jordan
In Jordan for example, International Inspiration is using sport to advocate for gender equality. A key focus is building leadership skills among girls. These girls, who have traditionally not been encouraged to take part in PE and sport, are organising sports activities for younger children, encouraging boys and girls to interact, and opening new horizons for girls. 17-year-old Bayam, explains that while boys in Jordan routinely get to play sport, opportunities for girls are often limited. She says: 'I have more confidence to speak with people and express my views at home and at school. I feel empowered because I can organise and conduct sport sessions for my peers and younger children. I get to practise sport regularly now thanks to International Inspiration, and would like to go on and develop my skills and use them in different aspects of my life.'
Encouraging gender equality in India and Bangladesh
In India too, girls traditionally also have fewer opportunities to play sport. Now International Inspiration is using sport to tackle a range of social issues including forced marriage for girls, whilst being sensitive to local culture.
Sport is a powerful tool to bring groups of young people together. Whilst they develop the girls’ sporting ability, the leaders are also able to include important life messages about gender equality and a girl’s right to choose her path in life. Before International Inspiration 18 year old Naziya only ever interacted with her family and her religious community. But she is now a leading figure in her village. Since her teachers and village leaders helped her to become a ‘Sport for Development Coach’ she now runs regular sports sessions for boys and girls where young people are also learning about health, hygiene and sanitation, Naziya now feels empowered and shares her opinions confidently as an active participant in all aspects of community life. International Inspiration has made Naziya a role model for other young women – she is leading the way by showing them the possibility of achieving their dreams.
In the West Bengal district of India, state-level sports competitions for girls have been held for the first time. In Chekgojoli, a rural community in Maharashtra, 24-year-old Ujjawala, who trained as a community sport coach through International Inspiration, has been elected Sarpanch (Village Head) following the status running coaching sessions gave her in her village: 'From a Community Sports Coach to being a Sarpanch, I have come a long way. Sports will always remain an area of special focus in my work.'Similarly in Bangladesh, International Inspiration is empowering girls and young women via access to sport, helping to challenge gender discrimination and social norms such as early marriage.
As a result of International Inspiration activities and advocacy campaigns in communities where nearly one in three girls are married by the age of 15, over 200,000 parents and community leaders are now actively supporting girls' engagement in sport.
Girls getting active in Nigeria
Another place where girls' participation in sport and wider community activity has historically been limited is northern Nigeria. International Inspiration Nigeria began working there at the end of 2009, and is influencing the school curriculum so that girls have more opportunities to take part and be involved, again giving a boost to their confidence.
These are examples from just four of the 16 countries that International Inspiration has reached out to. I am proud that we are helping many hundreds of thousands of girls and young women to realise their right to play and access sport – and showing that it is not only their brothers who have a right to far-reaching aspirations.
This blog first appeared on the official London 2012 Olympics website and is reproduced here with permission.